By Sam Youngman - 01/19/11 08:15 PM EST
During a lengthy and at times confusing joint press conference, President Obama pushed Chinese President Hu Jintao on human rights, calling the issue a "source of tension" between the two countries.
When an American reporter asked Hu whether it is the business of the U.S. to weigh in on how China treats its people, Hu at first did not answer, then said later he did not hear the question as the translation devices failed.
"China is always committed to the promotion and protection of human rights," Hu said.
Hu was asked about the decisions by many lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), not to attend Wednesday night's state dinner.
Hu deferred in his response, saying "who will attend, who will not attend, and for what reasons, I think President Obama is certainly in a better position to answer that question."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also will not attend.
Obama said that while China and the U.S. have different cultures and histories, the U.S. believes that core human rights "transcend cultures."
"I have been very candid with President Hu about the issue," Obama said.
The president said that "there has been an evolution in China over the last 30 years" on human rights and that he hopee 30 years from now the U.S. will see "further evolution and further change."
Obama emphasized the desire to see more U.S. products being sold in China, smiling and telling Hu at one point: "We want to sell you all kinds of stuff."
"We want to sell you planes, we want to sell you cars, we want to sell you software," he said. "And, as President Hu and his government refocuses the economy on expanding domestic demand, that offers opportunities for U.S. businesses, which ultimately translates into U.S. jobs."
Obama also sought to reassure his Chinese audience that the U.S. is not trying to contain or stifle Chinese growth.
Obama said China's rise is "potentially good for the world," so long as a stronger China is a responsible global actor.
"We just want to make sure that that rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules, and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict either in the region or around the world," Obama said.
More than 100 protesters stood across from the White House Wednesday, decrying China's treatment of dissidents and calling for the country to free Tibet.